Habit XV

by zenquaker

I have come to a difficult spot in my journey of habit formation. It’s not that I am having (unexpected) trouble with forming a particular habit, it’s more that there is an odd confluence of causes and effects surround the whole plan, and I am not sure how to navigate through them. It started, as I prefer, with stabbing pains in the back. What can I say, I have dark fantasies and most of them involve being stabbed in the back.

I wasn’t actually stabbed in the back, of course. But for years I have had persistent back pain. It hadn’t been around for a while, but last Tuesday it came back. I got up and went to work any way, because I find it is often better to work through it than to laze around immobile. It didn’t work this time, and Wednesday I had to take the day off. It was a very disjointed day off, because I spent half of every hour with a heat pad followed by stretching. But that got me back in shape enough to go back to work. It didn’t heal everything, and the back is still bothering me on and off.

Why is my back in pain? Because I haven’t been exercising. At least, that’s my current theory. And it seems to bear up under close examination. When I am exercising I still occasionally get soreness in the back, but it’s more like soreness from hard work than debilitating pain for no obvious reason. Why am I not exercising? I know I need exercise, and not just for the bad back. I’m over 40 now, and I need to be looking to my long term health. I fail to see how regular, light exercise could be anything but good for that. But I hate exercising.

That’s why I put forming a habit of exercising every day into my long term habit formation plan. To exercise I need time to do it before dinner. To have time to do it before dinner I have to get up on time regularly. That’s a hard habit to form, so I wanted to use the Simple Method to work on other habits, so that I had the hang of the method when it came time to work on waking up. The conflicting part of the Simple Method is to work on one thing at a time. I have certainly seen from experience how trying to do everything at once will just stress you out to the point where the whole thing falls down like a house of cards.

So I’ve been working slowly through things. I’ve just gotten to working on my sleeping habits. The problem is that it is as hard as I expected. I just started my fourth week of the habit, and two of those weeks I barely got up on time half of the days. I need at least another two weeks after this one to solidify the habit. But my back is making it clear that I need to start exercising now. Of course, if that was my only problem with my habits, it wouldn’t be that bad.

The other problem is that I have really come to the conclusion that my Chess study is useless as is. Tactics drill is fine, and visualization drill is fine (especially since I finished programming a graphical user interface for my visualization training program). But without actual game play none of that is going to help my actual game play. I’ve been making stabs at playing real games, but it has just made it clear that I have significant anxiety issues with playing real time chess against real people. One problem I’ve had since I was a kid is I can’t stand working on useless tasks. The fact that so much of my job is meaningless is a major frustration at work. If the Chess drill becomes meaningless because it’s in isolation, I’m going to have a hard time keeping it up. At work at least they pay me to do meaningless junk, no one is going to pay me to do tactics drill. I could just drop the whole Chess thing, but I really want to keep at it, and I think confronting this anxiety issue is important. At least enough to figure out what the underlying problem is.

So now I want to be doing three things at once. Which could lead me to being stressed out enough that it all falls apart. Or I could just let the frustration with the Chess drill cause it to all fall apart.

I have come up with a plan. The first part of the plan is to just keep steady on the waking up. I have pushed my wake up time back enough that I have an hour at home before dinner, even if I miss a bus on the way back home (which is a regular occurrence due to timing leaving work, the train, and the bus). That gives me time to meditate on the cushion (or on the floor given the current back pain) and exercise before dinner. I started exercising today, but the plan is just to keep that at five minutes a day. That is easy to do and I think it will be enough to keep my back happy in the near term. Later, when I have the energy to spare, I can slowly ramp it up to a half hour a day. Finally, either this week or next, start pushing to play a game of Chess every other day. However, only if I woke up on time that day and the previous day. Hopefully the every other day will lessen the stress, and tying it to the waking up will work as a pressure valve on the stress.

I think I can get through this, if I just display some adaptability.